Senior Night Heroics Lift Friars

Marshon Brooks capped off an emotional Senior Night with a game-winning drive, and Providence edged Rutgers, 75-74, before 9,088 thoroughly entertained fans at the Dunk. With the win, PC snaps a 7 game losing streak and finishes the regular season with a 15-16 mark and a 4-14 league record.

One of the more popular players in recent Friar history capped off his home career at the Dunk on Saturday evening. Don't believe it? Marshon Brooks took the microphone moments after the game ended and thanked Friar fans before leading them in a "Go Friars!" chant. He then sat in a chair on the court a half hour after the game, surrounded by security, signing autographs for an endless line of admiring youngsters.

Brooks stuffed the stat sheet in his last home game, scoring 28 points, grabbing 7 rebounds, handing out 5 assists against just one turnover, all game highs for Providence. In addition, he recorded 3 blocks, all key swats on point blank lay-up attempts by impressive Rutgers freshman center Gilvydas Biruta. In the process, Brooks became the all-time Big East single season point scorer, with 468 points, eclipsing the long-held record by Connecticut's Donyell Marshall. For the season, Brooks now has 768 points, third-highest ever by a Friar, for a 24.8 average.

"Marshon is an unselfish player," said Keno Davis. "But along with that, he's one of the best players in the country. The only reason you don't hear more about him for Player of the Year or nationally, is because the voters like guys from top teams, or teams near the top. But that's not Marshon's fault."

That PC even had a chance to win was surprising. This game followed the script of so many other Friar games this season. PC battled Rutgers on fairly even terms for much of the first half, and held a 31-30 lead on a Gerard Coleman three pointer, but over the final three minutes of the half, the Scarlet knights outscored PC, 8-2, on the strength of baskets by James Beatty and Dane Miller and free throws by Biruta, and the Knights led, 38-33 at the intermission.

Rutgers had shot 55% in the first half, and in the second half, they heated up even more against a soft, inviting Friar defense. Five minutes into the half, Rutgers assumed a double digit lead on a three ball from Austin Carroll, and the Knights maintained that comfortable lead after a lay-up by Jonathan Mitchell had them up, 69-58, with 7:26 to play. As had happened so many times this season, PC found themselves staring at a double digit lead late in the second half and ready to mount a charge.

"We tried everything defensively," said Davis. "We tried three quarter pressure, triangle, box and one, full court pressure at the end. We got enough turnovers late that we played pressure free at the end. We could just run and score and not think too much."

Brooks found Coleman for a corner three and followed with jumper after a Mitchell miss, and just like that, PC was within six. After free throws by Bryce Cotton and Vincent Council, Mitchell hit a jumper that had Rutgers up, 73-66 with 3:24 to go, and from there, the Knights self-destructed as PC's defense finally stepped up. After two free throws by Council, Beatty was stripped by Cotton, but Council missed a three. Mitchell returned the favor, and Cotton knocked down two free throws to trim the deficit to 73-70.

Biruta then turned the ball over and Brooks found Cotton alone for a corner three that tied the score with 1:14 to play. As PC turned up the pressure, Biruta missed a lay-up that wedged between the backboard and rim and gave the ball to the Friars. With just under :13 left and time running down on the shot clock, Brooks caught the ball in the circle, spun to his left and drove towards the hoop, tossing up a floater that banked in off the glass and put PC up 75-73. With eleven seconds left, Rutgers worked the ball around the perimeter and guard Mike Coburn turned in towards the basket and was fouled by Kadeem Batts as he went up for the shot with 1.8 seconds on the clock. Coburn bounced in the first free throw, but missed the second and when Brooks tracked down the rebound, PC had escaped.

"I felt confident even as the last play broke down," Davis said. "It wasn't what we called but I did want the ball in Marshon's hands. I didn't want him to settle for a fall-away three pointer, which he can make, but I felt that if the ball was in Marshon's hands, he'd attack the basket and either get a good shot or get to the free throw line."

Rutgers shot 60% for the game, including an incredible 65% in the second half – and lost. How? Well, the Friars outshot Rutgers 17-6 from the free throw line, 10-6 from three and committed four fewer turnovers. Brooks received scoring help from Coleman, who put up 15 points, including 3-6 from three, and Council, who also had 15 points, while Batts chipped in with 9 points and 5 boards. For Rutgers, Biruta led the way with 21 points, 13 in the second half.

But this night belonged to a clearly emotional Brooks. After so many games where the ball was in his hands with a chance to win, it was sweet justice to hit the winning shot on Senior Night. And the reward for winning this game? A 9:15 matchup with nemesis Marquette in the first round of the Big East Tournament on Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden. The same Marquette team that just a week ago thrashed PC, 86-62, while holding Brooks to 17 points. But that's Tuesday night. For now, Friar fans can hold onto the memories of Marshon Brooks' last home game.

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